ROME, June 27 (Xinhua) -- The Italian Health Ministry said Saturday that 97 COVID-19 patients are in the ICU, of whom almost half, or 43 patients, are in the northern Lombardy region.
Eight people succumbed to the virus over the past 24 hours (compared to 30 victims on Friday), pushing the overall death toll to 34,716.
Also on Saturday, Italian health officials recorded 175 fresh cases of infection from the novel coronavirus, down from 259 new cases on Friday, and there were 16,836 total active infections across the country.
Of these active cases, 1,260 people were hospitalized with symptoms and 15,479 were quarantined at home because they are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms.
A total of 188,584 patients have recovered, the ministry said.
The northern, densely populated and highly industrialized Lombardy region still had the lion's share of cases among Italy's 20 regions, with 10,992 active cases, 16,626 deaths, and over 66,000 recoveries.
The region with the least cases was Valle d'Aosta, which is located in the Alps mountains and borders France and Switzerland, with four active infections and 146 deaths.
Lombardy had just over 10 million inhabitants and Valle d'Aosta had almost 126,000 residents as of Jan. 1 last year, according to the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).
The overall number of COVID-19 infections, fatalities, and recoveries rose to 240,136 cases over the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said.
In a medical bulletin issued on Saturday, the national institute for infectious disease at Rome's Lazzaro Spallanzani Hospital (INMI Lazzaro Spallanzani) said that 106 patients are currently hospitalized within its facility, of whom 47 have tested positive for the coronavirus and four are in the ICU.
Another way to track the status of the pandemic in Italy is by looking at what scientists call the Rt index, which measures the rate of contagiousness of the coronavirus in the wake of countrywide prevention measures put in place by the government.
The latest weekly monitoring report issued by the Ministry of Health showed that during the week of June 15-21, the Rt index in Italy's 20 regions ranged from a high of 1.24 in the central Lazio region whose capital is Rome to a low of 0.27 in Sardinia, which is an island in the Mediterranean.
Both numbers were up from the week of June 8-14, when Sardinia had an Rt index of 0.03 and Lazio came in at 1.12.
The Rt index is being closely watched by health authorities after the last remaining restrictions on domestic travel were lifted on June 3.
Also according to data released by the Ministry of Health on June 26, a total of 7,356 people had contracted the coronavirus over the past 30 days, including 399 health care workers.
In an interview with Il Messaggero newspaper on Saturday, Civil Protection Department Director Agostino Miozzo, who also heads up the Technical and Scientific Committee advising the government on how to handle the pandemic, said that "the virus is still circulating" in Italy.
"We are very concerned over (media) images of young people crowding together in public," said Miozzo.
On the economic front, a new report by the Association of Artisans and Small Businesses (CGIA) based in Mestre, near Venice, said that between March 17 and June 25, a total of 715,776 small and medium businesses (SMEs) applied for a total of 41 billion euros (46 billion U.S. dollars) in economic aid under the government's various packages to shore up the country's industrial and manufacturing sector during the coronavirus crisis.
This made up just 13 percent of the 5.46 million small businesses that qualified for the government-guaranteed coronavirus crisis financing, according to the CGIA report.